tv Question Time CSPAN March 6, 2016 9:32pm-10:01pm EST
somewhere in there, and from that moment on, and when the friends they made decided that ronald reagan would be a great candidate for governor, and went on to be elected governor, that she was the person -- people i talked to call her the personnel director. she made sure that the people around her husband had his best interest at heart. susan: we are going to show a brief clip from "role of a lifetime" the cbs documentary, and she talks about what she brings to the relationship in terms of looking out for him. >> the first lady is another means to keep the president from being isolated.
i talk to people. they tell me things. and if something is going to be a problem, i am not above calling a staff person. i make no apologies for looking out for his personal and political welfare. >> your thoughts on the partnership? >> she said she was the personnel director. in september of 1980, when they started to hit a rocky road, and the campaign was in a little bit of trouble, it was nancy who said where stu spencer? he was only back in the campaign because nancy had helped bring about. there was one person he asked, is it ok?
and that was nancy. nancy said it was her idea. >> we will have more time to talk about the white house years. we are going to go back and talk about the nancy reagan biography. before that we will talk about how you can be involved. your questions make it so much more interesting for us so we can take the conversation in the direction of your interest. you can see us on facebook and find c-span's page. there is already a discussion going. you can also tweet is at first ladies. you can also use the good old phone. we will get the calls and probably about 10 minutes or so. let's go back to where she was born, in 1981. her early days were not easy. >> it was not the smoothest childhood.
her mother was an actress. her father was a salesman. the marriage between edith and kenneth did not last long. nancy was around two years old when they divorced. her mother really wanted her acting career, and she wanted a safe place for nancy. so she had nancy, until she was remarried, with nancy's aunt outside of washington. nancy lived in what was then a suburban neighborhood. the woman who was described as very different from her mother. her mother was very outgoing, was the life of the party, was in the middle of every
conversation. her aunt was much more quiet. the rules were fairly strict. nancy herself talk about it. she talked in the interview in the documentary about how she missed her mother, and she would be thrilled with her mother came to visit. so it was rocky for a few years. >> what changed for nancy when her mother remarried to a chicago physician? >> there was money. he was successful. she went to smith college. he was the doting parent she had lacked. for most of her life, that is the man she called her father. they gave her an idea of what a family could be. from that day forward, she had an idea of what she would like to be, and what she wanted out of life. and she wanted to build a family that was the family she didn't have. that was something that she and reagan had in common. she went to hollywood. she went to the theater, and
then she went back to hollywood. she was typecast. she was cast as the steady woman. that is what she was. >> did nancy reagan and barbara bush know each other as students at smith college? >> i would have to ask. do you know? i think nancy was leaving as barbara bush was coming in. >> she was only there a year or two, so i don't think so. that is a good question. >> we know that nancy went to new york to try acting right out of smith. she was in new york for two years before she went to hollywood. she had a contract at mgm studios. >> a question about her stepfather and the influence on
her politics. dr. davis was very active in conservative politics. did that influence her? >> he was a republican. i think that did influence her. she married ronald reagan, and on their first date, reagan was discussing politics. and he's talking about communism. he didn't like communism. she was receptive to his message. >> how did they meet? >> it is an interesting story. this is hollywood in the late 1940's when there was the communist scare. it was after the end of world war ii. people were named for being somehow associated with the communist party. nancy davis, which was her name at the time, showed up on a "blacklist."
she knew that that was not she. and that was as someone who was in hollywood that was part of the communist party. she wanted to get her name off. she told her good friend, who i believe was a producer, she said how can i get this done? they said ronald reagan as the president of the screen actor's guild. she said, as soon as i knew that, i knew who ronald reagan was. i said, absolutely, call him up. and i would be glad to meet with him. he said he would be glad to talk to her about this. and then one thing led to another. there was a meeting. then it became dinner. she really tells a funny story about how they both agreed to go to dinner but insisted it had to be an early evening because they had an early call, which neither one of the actually did.
>> if the date doesn't work out, you can ended in a civil way, right? but they didn't ended early because they didn't have anywhere to be the next morning. >> that was 1941. >> when did they marry? >> 1952. >> so they had a three-year courtship. you will be seeing some video of people telling the story of nancy and ronald reagan. this is about their early relationship and the love letters they shared. >> nancy was asked if it was love at first sight. she said, it might not have been, but it was pretty darn close. she was a very sentimental woman. she kept mementos of the relationship. all of the artifacts are on display in the museum, and a
document how important they were to each other. one of the things that we have in here, which is very symbolic of their intense relationship, is a letter the president reagan wrote to his wife in 1953 when he was in new york, and he wrote a very charming letter to her. he wrote it as if she had actually joined him at dinner. you can see how creative you was. the final page of the letter is very touching. let's take a look at that page, along with some of the other artifacts in the collection. this is that fourth page of the letter. it is where president reagan expresses his heartfelt feelings to his wife. this was written in 1953, about 1.5 years after they were married. he says, i suppose some people would find it unusual that you and i can so easily stand 3000 miles. but in truth, it comes very naturally.
man cannot live without a heart, and you are my heart. you are the nicest thing about me and so very necessary. there would be no life without you, nor would i want anybody. signed, the eastern half of us. recently, mrs. reagan given us this little box that held precious keepsakes of hers. when nancy reagan received her own dressing room when she was under contract to mgm, ronald reagan went to a jeweler and had a special key made for her. it had an image of a thespian on the front and on the back. she thought that was such a nice idea that two years later, after they were married and they bought their first home, she had
keys made for their first home. and there is little house on the top. and they're both engraved with their initials. on his key, right above his initials it says, " our first." >> what were the early married years like? >> they were married in 1952, and their daughter was born in 1952. she'd been getting some roles fairly steadily. and his career was the one that was stalling out at that point. then the ge offer came along. she became a homemaker. she did a few television roles in the first decade of the marriage. she was his wife, and the mother of patty, and i think years
later ron junior was born. her family was her life, and she devoted all of her time to that. there is great story that once he went to work for ge, ge had an all electric house built for them, which had every imaginable special feature in it. drape closures. the kind of things that we wouldn't think was a big deal today. but it was a big deal then. she became much closer to the wives who were influential. >> and ronald reagan brought two children to the marriage, maureen and michael reagan. by the time they came onto the national stage, first as
governor of california, and then, of course, in the white house years, there were tensions between the kids. one of our viewers refers to this. they ask, what is the relationship between the kids and stepson now? we have a documentary that talks about the reagan partnership and the effect on children. let's listen to ron reagan talk about life inside the ronald reagan household from his perspective. >> we were conscious, i think, growing up. i was. there were really two sets of people, to definite and distinct sets of people involved in the family. there was my mother and father, and there was everybody else. and while we were all part of the family, when push came to
shove, there was a distinction to be made. it wasn't like, be seen and not heard, but it was -- you know, we were expected to put ourselves in second place to whatever they were doing. >> what can you add to this part of the story? >> ron reagan junior, the family calls him skipper, and he tells the story about emotional distance. there's a kind who looks out the window and sees a kid playing football, and has to go and join the game, and there's the kind that goes back to his work. as he went on he said his dad was the kind who came out and played with the kids. you find yourself wondering, what was there beef? you keep hearing about this emotional distance that reagan
had with his children. but he played ball with all of them. he was very involved. in his own mind he was a family man first. he separated hollywood people into those who had multiple marriages and family people. he didn't want to be divorced. michael writes about it years later when michael admits he was abused by camp counselor. reagan's eyes kind of glazed over. there was this emotional distance that was subtle that everybody talks about. sometimes people would blame nancy. but nancy, she once told my dad, after they left the white house, you can get so far with ronnie, and then something happens.
it took him a long time to trust me. >> on twitter there is this question, today's hollywood is decidedly liberal. was ronald and nancy's conservatism unusual in 1950's hollywood? >> i do not know that i am the right person to ask. there were other conservative women in the community. but those that supported ronald reagan and in his candidacy, were people not in the movie industry per se. >> there was jimmy stewart and people like that. >> i would not say that the conservatives were necessarily
in the extreme minority, but they probably were not the majority. >> most of the people in hollywood were democrats. there is an interesting story about that. when reagan runs against pat brown, a popular two-term governor, pat thought it would be wise to run. he would say, he is an actor, the way he would say, he's an idiot. people would say, why is this a winning strategy? but the people were from northern california. but in southern california people were proud of the movie industry. people were criticizing him for being an actor, and jack palance was there. they said, you can criticize this guy, but don't make fun of them because he is an actor.
they said, he is one of us. and they were proud of him. >> we will take phone calls and then learn more about the governor's mansion in california. phil is watching in northern hollywood, ca. you are our first caller tonight. >> i was at the reagan library, and i recommend it to everybody, whether you agree with their politics or not. i was struck by the omission. i was wondering what the dynamic was between the reagans and jane. i thought it was odd that there was one little line. it said, oh, yes, jane wyman, he was married to. obviously, mrs. reagan was in control of the
presidential library. i was wondering if you had any insight on that. i really appreciate the program. >> thank you so much. >> i do not think we know very much about that. jane wyman was his first wife. and they were part of the family after ronald and jane wyman divorced. but there was never any discussion that i heard of jane wyman. >> reagan felt hurt by what it happened in a marriage. but jane wyman never gave interviews. i think she was just as well to not be made a spectacle of. she was not part of their political story. she was part of their personal story. >> keith is in illinois.
hi, keith. you are on. >> thank you for taking my call. i heard somewhere that nancy was really into astrology, and things of that sort. is it true that she held seances in the white house? >> that would be mary todd lincoln. our caller made the same mistake. but nancy did consult an astrologer after ronald reagan was shot. she did so because she was desperate for anything, anything she could have. she did not have much to control of the schedule, so she consulted an astrologer. this came out in don's book, and that came out. it was a mild embarrassment.
many people thought that she was so traumatized that if she wanted to consult astrologer she was well within her rights. >> jordan is in pennsylvania. hi, jordan. >> my grandmother has the same birth day as nancy reagan. she was born july 6, 1920. she was one of my favorite first ladies. did her mother live to be almost 100 when she was in the white house? >> i do not remember. >> do remember if she was around for the inauguration?
>> 1921 was actually her birth date. sorry to pop your balloon there. >> i am looking it up. >> this helps us with the transition from the ge years, to politics, and ultimately, to the governorship of california. did nancy personally like politics, or did she learn to like it is she loved ronnie? >> she did not love politics, and she was not built for politics. it was on the job training, and it wasn't always easy. she didn't like the town, and the town reciprocated. she was asked to move into the governor's mansion, which was a victorian structure downtown, if i remember. i think it was 16th street. nancy called it a fire trap. it was the second floor bedroom, and the screen was rusted shut.
how does he get out in case of fire? he was supposed to ram a dresser into the window, pop up the screen, and climbed on a rope ladder. he was 8. nancy decided they were going to live there, and they moved to east sacramento. >> i have an answer to jordan's question. edith died in 1987, shoes to was alive for most of that time , so she was alive for most of that time in the white house. >> i wrote a couple bullet points down. she was criticized for not wanting to live in the governor's mansion. she was critical of ronald reagan, governor reagan's staff.
she was criticized by the press for her glamorous friends and expensive lifestyle. and she had a number of issues, including veterans. those were many of the same things. >> interesting, isn't it? she developed a thick skin during those years. she didn't like the criticism. she is specially didn't like the criticism of her husband, and she talked about that. she knew it was not going to be easy, but she underestimated how much the press -- and it does everywhere going to be critical of politicians everywhere. she had to develop an even thicker skin. they looked at her choice of causes.
and she and the press had a testy relationship. >> she shopped in beverly hills, and sacramento did not have stores like that. she was used to cool breezes. sacramento gets hot. and mostly, she hated the "sacramento bee." it was a very democratic newspaper. they were relentless in their criticism of reagan. she canceled the subscription. people asked reagan about this. he said, it is ok, i get it in my office. she took care of him in washington. in those years, she was a little bit brittle. there was a very her story that made fun of the gaze, you know we all talked about that. it was an adoring gaze that she gave reagan. they thought it was phony. we learned over the years that it was not phony. it might've been annoying, but it was genuine.
reagan protected her in this time. she treated the staff like servants. all of these things, i think, in those years, she had the rough edges. reagan had to smooth them off. >> she learned how to be a political spouse. she learned that there were great moments when you feel terrific and appreciated. then there are the really tough moments. it prepared her for the presidency. >> she also had these causes. there was a lecture series, i guess it was in 1994. i watched it recently. he found her interested in drugs and youth as early as 1967.
you mentioned veterans. she helped get reagan interested in pows. the other thing about sacramento that you notice were the crowds that came up in washington. >> she had to do it a lot because the children and grandchildren of her friends were starting to have these issues, and she saw that when her husband was governor of california. >> we have answered that question. let's move to a phone call. this is duncan in ohio. >> thank you. ronald reagan was a member of the bohemian grove. did nancy reagan express any feelings about that? >> it was a club. george schultz belonged to it.
>> it is men only. we should say that. >> they walked in the redwoods naked, and did all kinds of things. there was a call between nancy and schultz, and the papers are the calls between shultz and nancy that's coming out, as the scholarship, the papers are being released, many -- many more conversations, alliances between them than we knew. shultz was in bohemian grove, so i'm inferring she didn't mind. susan swain: now, there's a much too long and complicated political story to be told about ronald reagan's career from leaving the governorship in '75 and mounting his first presidential challenge one later -- one year later in 1976. but let's look at it from the first lady's perspective. what was nancy's role in encouraging ronald reagan to seek the challenge against gerald ford in 1976? judy woodruff: there was a group of influential, al